Sunday, January 23, 2011


While teaching a firearm self-defense course this weekend, I was approached by a student with a question. Recently, while he was out of town, a male individual that he had hired to do some remodeling at his home, came to the home after hours. He knocked on the door, and one of the student’s children had opened the door while the wife was busy cooking in the kitchen and unaware of the visitor. The man walked into the house uninvited. He confronted the wife in the kitchen. She immediately ordered the man to leave the home. He walked to the front door, and without saying a word, locked it from the inside and then began pacing about the living room, apparently muttering to himself, and touching himself in an inappropriate way, and ignoring the wife’s continued orders to leave the home. She became frightened and brandished a butcher knife at the man, screaming for him to leave the home. Her children were huddled, frightened out of their wits behind the mother. The man finally backed to the front door and opened it, running off into the night. The woman did not call the police to report the incident, later claiming that, “He didn’t really do anything.” The husband reported that he has implored her to take self-defense firearms training but she has refused because, “I don’t believe in guns.”

The student’‘s question was, if the man had suddenly attacked her, would she have been permitted to use the knife to defend herself? The other instructors standing within ear shot, all looked at each other, their faces stony and somber. They understood the implications all too well. The student had a glimmering of understanding. I did my best to answer the question, explaining that a woman, facing even an unarmed male is in a disparity of force situation that justifies the use of deadly force to protect against an attack you reasonably believe is being perpetrated to take your life or cause you crippling injury. But there is much left to say about this situation.

One, it happened within twenty miles of my home. To a family just like mine, just like yours. No matter how many times I say to people, “You are not special, you are not blessed. It can happen to you, in your home, or on the streets, any time, day or night, and you will not get to choose, because someone else is going to make that choice for you, and they will not give you any warning of their decision. You have got to be aware of that reality and aware of what is going on around you, all the time. Not just when you want to be.

Two, a woman, with no training in the use of edged weapons, who engages in hand to hand combat with anyone, armed only with a butcher knife, seized from the kitchen cutting board has no concept of what that battle will be like, or whether she will survive it. It takes years of intensive training to handle a knife in a fight to the death. And when one trains for such things, they do not do it with a kitchen knife, poorly designed for the task. That fight will be brutal, it will be physically demanding, and it will be bloody. My own father had such a fight in the hedgerows of Normandy, trained as a Army Ranger. He survived, but woke screaming in the night from time to time for the rest of his life, with scenes of that conflict running through his sub-conscious mind.

Three. A woman who does not ‘believe in guns” was naively willing to do battle poorly equipped, and trained, as she was, because she believed that her life and the lives of her children were in mortal danger. And they were, make no mistake about that. The individual she confronted was trying to make up his mind, or steel himself to a task he had already decided to carry out. This was very likely his first time. It will not be his last. I implored the student to contact the police and tell them about the incident and the identify of the intruder. I hope he does, but I cannot force him to do so. The next victim may not be as lucky. And unchecked, there will be a next victim.

Four, a firearm is nothing more than a tool. It can be used to hunt for food, it can be used in recreational sporting activities, and it can be used to preserve your life in situations where someone else who does not give a damn about you, your family, your children or your right to life, seeks to take it, for their own warped or selfish reasons.

It will not carry the day in every instance. It is not a talisman, or a death ray. You have to be trained to use it. You have to be trained to develop the mind set to use it if you must. And you have to be trained to understand when you are legally authorized to use deadly force.  You cannot use it to scare assailants because many of them are mentally hardened or deranged enough that they will not be scared. The argument made by blowhards that "the sound of the  action of a pump shotgun being racked is enough to scare an intruder running from your home" is a fantasy.  I've had criminals tell me that often enough to know its truth.

I invited the student to have his wife come and attend a class, to listen, to evaluate. The four  women in the class, each of whom was taking the class for their own private reasons, all reacted more emotionally. “You tell her I said to stop that foolishness and get her butt in here and learn how to protect herself and her family.”

I do not believe in the Easter Bunny because I have never seen him, or the Tooth Fairy for that matter. I do believe in guns because I have seen them, owned them, fired them, and trained with them for my entire adult life and before. I am aware, I harbor no illusions about my personal safety, and I fervently hope that I never have to use my training to save my life or that of another human being. But after all these years, I also know that hoping will never be enough.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dry Firing for Fun and Profit

Lets talk about dry firing. Is it necessary? Is it advisable? Can I do it with my handgun without damaging it? If I can, and I do, what sort of dry firing practice should I engage in?

Like just about every other topic in the shooting sports world, you can find some “expert(s)” with opinions that contradict each other, and sometimes even themselves. For example:

“Integrating regular dry-fire practice will greatly assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with any weapon.”

“Dry firing a weapon for self defense purposes is pointless and absurd!”

“You must dry-fire your weapon for at least one hour every day.”

“Establish a routine of dry firing for five minutes each morning.”

Okay, so what do we make of all of this? Here is my opinion, and why I formed it.

My primary job, at least at the present time, and for the last 27+ years, is practicing law. Despite what most people think they know about that job, and all the jokes, and nasty cracks about lawyers and the profession in general, attorneys are first and foremost researchers. As one of my law professors in law school said, “The law that is cannot be known”. So, I asked him, “if that’s the case, why go to law school?” He replied, “So we can teach you to find it when you need it, dumb ass.” I was an older student, not overly impressed with my status in life, as was the case with so many of my younger law school classmates. He was a brilliant instructor, but also a pragmatist who recognized that he would not damage my fragile psyche by calling a spade a spade. We could communicate.

So, I learned to do research. The skills have stood me well over time, and have a wide variety of applications. One among them is sifting through the myriad opinions on a topic such as this, and distilling what I believe to be the salient points. Not because I thought of them myself, but because people that I respect for their knowledge, experience, and skills believe them to be important.

These experts, the ones I respect, uniformly agree that dry-firing practice is not intended to replace live fire practice. Properly applied, it can, and will, assist the shooter with maintaining proficiency with their self-defense weapon. It can be incorporated into drills such as drawing from the holster, drawing from the holster while wearing different types of clothing, practicing magazine changes, developing a smooth trigger squeeze, strong hand/ support hand techniques, and developing one-handed/weak-handed weapon handling skills. Like practicing any other physical skill, dry-firing will greatly enhance any shooter’s ability to perform much more smoothly and efficiently in the heat of battle.

First things first. The most important rule when conducting this type of training is always make sure you are practicing with an unloaded firearm. Visually inspect the weapon to make sure it is not loaded. Now, set it down. Take three slow, deep measured breaths and then pick it up and inspect it again. Overkill, right? No, it is not.

The human brain is a complex organ. If it is occupied with a variety of tasks, it can, and will, fill in blanks with previously learned information, even if that information is incorrect. The pre-occupied driver who pulls out into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist, later claiming, “I didn’t see him.” The police officer who blows up his wife’s aquarium full of exotic fish with a loaded .357 magnum that he “just knew” was unloaded. I personally have over two dozen such stories where I saw it happen. You do not have to add to them.

Make sure that dry fire practice will not damage your firearm. Some firearms will not be adversely affected. Some will. A number of modern handguns are designed to be dry fired, a number are not. For example, Beretta does not recommend dry firing its Model 92 autoloaders. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations and also seek the advice of a skilled and experienced gunsmith. Use “snap caps” to absorb impact and reduce mechanical stress on the action of your firearm. Some snap caps are better than others. I am not selling snap caps and make no recommendations as to which brand you should use. Do your own research on this issue and make your own decision.

Conduct your dry fire practice in a safe area, free from distractions. And do it in an area where there is no live ammunition anywhere near you. The fish killer noted in the earlier paragraph had conducted dry fire drills. He had ended the drills. He had reloaded his S&W, Model 19 service revolver with cartridges sitting on the table where he had placed them after unloading his revolver. He then decided, after smoking a cigarette, to try one more drill. The spent slug was recovered from his neighbor’s living room. Luckily no casualties occurred other than the expensive guppies, and his ass, chewed, in turn, by each officer up the chain of command from his shift Sgt. to the Chief. It is too easy to get distracted. You have to develop routines for safety and follow them every time without fail when handling firearms. Despite what some so-called “authorities” say, it is not the unloaded gun that kills or injures. Unloaded guns go “click”. Loaded guns go bang, with the potential for great harm when used irresponsibly. Its just that simple.

Work on sight alignment and trigger squeeze in your dry firing practice sessions. You must learn to identify your front sight location on the target at the instant you hear the audible “click” of the hammer or striker fall, not just when the trigger breaks. The very brief time span between the two (a few milliseconds) is referred to as “lock time”. This will help you build the skill of calling your shots, and it’s how a shooter learns to separate what “should be” from what is.

You should practice firing from your chosen standing firing stance, as well as a kneeling or crouched position. As you do, be aware of your grip, your sight alignment and your breathing.

Squeeze the trigger in a smooth, consistent manner rearward while maintaining minimal movement so that you do disturb the sight picture. You should be focusing on the front sight on the target you have chosen as you squeeze the trigger. Every shooter will have movement during this process. Excessive movement during trigger squeeze affects your sight alignment. The goal of the exercise is to minimize this movement.

Repeat this process at least five times using both your two-handed grip and then with a one-handed grip. This helps you build muscle memory and your confidence as well. Law enforcement officers, serious about their training and maintaining their skills use this technique constantly. So do military shooters and competition shooters. It is not intended as a substitute for live fire practice, but as an adjunct to that practice.

So the answers I believe to be most correct, based upon the experts I trust, are, yes, it is advisable. Yes, it is necessary, and with proper equipment poses no danger of harm to your handgun. I hope this information helps you make your own decisions on the issue.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Of the several critical aspects of getting a handgun to do what you need it to do, when you need to use it, the grip has to be one of the most significant. Properly indexing the handgun to the desired point of aim / impact, naturally positioning the weapon's controls (trigger, safeties, and releases), and compensating for recoil to provide correct cycling, user control, and comfort readily come to mind.

When fitting the handgun to a prospective user/owner, the most important consideration is always trigger reach. If the gun in the hand has too long, or too short, a trigger reach, it is going to b e difficult for the user to handle the handgun properly or shoot it accurately. Trigger reach is measured on the handgun by measuring the distance from the vertical center of the trigger to the vertical center of the backstrap. The hand that holds the handgun is correspondingly measure from the center of the web between the thumb and forefinger to the point on the index finger that contacts the center of the trigger of the handgun.

Matching these measurements from handgun to hand is critical to proper operation of the firearm. This can be difficult, or easy, depending upon the design of a particular handgun. Nationally known expert, Massad Ayoob, in discussing this issue, uses the example of the Model 1911 .45 semiautomatic pistol.

“The short, relatively easy stroke of this single-action auto-pistol's trigger allows good shooting to be done if the very tip of the finger, or the pad of the distal phalange (or the "farthest-out joint") is in contact. That gives you plus or minus an inch of latitude in fitting the gun to the hand, and it's one of the reasons why I often state that such pistols fit a wide variety of hands.”

But, in contrast, the revolver is a different story. The revolver takes more work to fit to the customer's hand than does the auto-loader. To properly operate the revolver, you must pull the double-action trigger straight back. This requires that the joint of the finger closest to the finger nail be in contact with the center of the trigger. Therefore, with the revolver, you do not have the same degree of latitude in fitting the gun to the hand that you do with the semi-auto pistol.

Additionally, you have to factor in what expert trainers refer to as the requirements of "administrative handling" which includes loading, unloading, checking, dry fire and access to safety/decocker/magazine release, and slide lock/cylinder release. A properly fit handgun will allow the user to manipulate these various functions without excessive readjustment of the basic grip.

A quick test for proper fit requires that you grip the handgun with a good grip. Make sure that you check the weapon first, to be absolutely sure that it is unloaded. Now, grip the weapon. With the revolver, this means that the web of the hand is placed high on the backstrap just under the hump below the hammer. If you are using the semi-auto, the web of the hand is placed high into the tang of the backstrap with the fingers wrapped firmly around the frontstrap. Now take a look at the barrel. It should be in line with the long axis of the forearm, because with a proper grip, the bones of the forearm is the base of recoil support. This allows you to see whether the weapon’s grip is the right size, too big, or too small.

Now, place your finger on the trigger. If your index finger extends past the trigger, beyond the first joint, the length of pull may be too short for good shooting and the finger may be pinched against the frame or trigger guard when the trigger is depressed.

On the other hand, if you have to turn the pistol’s barrel so that it is not aligned with the long axis of your arm, just so that you can reach the trigger, then you must examine what the alignment is telling you about the fit of the handgun. If possible, check for barrel/axis alignment from above the subject’s arm.

If the muzzle of the pistol points to the right (for a right-handed shooter) with the index finger’s first pad on the trigger, the grip is too large. In general, the more shots a semi-auto contains, the more pronounced this problem might be. Revolvers are usually more forgiving, within reason, and grips of different sizes are usually available to correct misalignment.

The proper grip provides the shooter with:

1. A natural point of aim so the sights are aligned without having to do any work to align them.

2. Effective management of both vertical recoil and horizontal recoil upon discharge.

Ensuring proper grip with a firearm that fits the shooter allows the shooter to consistently put rounds where they desire a vital skill where follow-up shots are necessary to stop an immediate threat.


Its human nature. People like to share information, people like to gossip about their favorite subjects. How many of us have heard from our buddy at our favorite watering hole that he has information that he got from his cousin’s husband’s best friend’s brother in law, who is an expert on the subject.

Sometimes the information is just slightly in accurate and in many cases, its harmless. In other cases, it can create perceptions that are not only dangerous, but calculated to create tragedy when acted upon by well-meaning, but horribly misinformed consumers.

This is very true in the area of self-defense. What you think you know can prove to hurt you, somewhere down the road. Take a look at these dangerous myths and expel them from your data base, now and forever.

1. “If you confront a trespasser in your home, you are legally permitted to shoot them to defend your property.“

Wrong and very dangerous. Remember, in Minnesota you can only use deadly force under a very limited set of circumstances:

(1) The killing must have been done in the belief that it was necessary to avert death or grievous bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a felony in your own home.

(2) The judgment of the defendant as to the gravity of the peril to which he was exposed must have been reasonable under the circumstances.

(3) The defendant's election to kill must have been such as a reasonable man would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended.

Trespassing is not, in and of itself, a felony. Shooting you daughter’s boyfriend while he is sneaking into your home so they can make out, on the other hand is a felony and one you may well go to prison for committing. If you are going to pick up a gun, you will also be picking up a tremendous responsibility. The power to inflict deadly force carries with it a heavy price tag.

2. “If you shoot and intruder who turns out to be unarmed, stick a knife in his hand and drag him into the house before calling the police.”

Wrong and very dangerous. With the advanced scientific technology available to law enforcement today, these types of actions will be discovered. Notice I said “will be” not “may be”. In almost all jurisdictions, altering the scene of a shooting is considered prima facie evidence of prior planning. What is an unjustified killing with prior planning? 1st degree murder. Do not alter the scene. Do not allow others to alter the scene. If you must shoot, your spouse is just going to have to deal with the stains on the carpet. Lock it down and leave it alone. Or try to explain to already suspicious police officers why you found it necessary to try to change the scene (can we all say “deception?”)

3. “If you have to shoot a bad guy, make sure he is dead, otherwise the lawsuits he might file will ruin you financially.”

Wrong and very dangerous. You have been given the power to shoot to stop a deadly threat. You have not been given the power to commit murder. You have an obligation, (to yourself and your family) once you make the decision to use deadly force to continue to use deadly force until the threat is stopped. If that results in an attacker dying from gunshot wounds, that is a choice that he made in mounting his attack. But if he is down and out of the fight, you do not have the right to administered a coup de grace to avoid the legal entanglements that may arise after the fact. Yes, it is complicated. Its SUPPOSED to be complicated. Taking a human life is an action of last resort.

4. “After you have to shoot a mugger, look for witnesses. If there aren’t any, leave the area to avoid the legal hassle.”

Wrong and very dangerous. In the eyes of the law, flight equals guilt. Innocent people do not run from the law. Your perceptions will be distorted, your senses dulled in the aftermath of any shooting encounter. (If it happens to trained professionals, and it does, it will happen to you). The witnesses you don’t see, you will see for the first time when they appear in court to testify against you.

5. “Guns are of no use to a woman in danger of rape, since rapists do not carry guns and you cannot shoot an unarmed man.”

Wrong and very dangerous - are you noticing a pattern here by now? In the “AOJ” trilogy (Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy) the threat of disparate force by an unarmed attacker meets the ability requirement. A man, due to average superior upper body strength, has a disparity of force advantage over a smaller, weaker woman. More than one attacker, even when unarmed poses a deadly threat because of their greater combined strength. This disparity is a “weapon” as surely as a gun, a knife or other weapon. And an attack with intent to rape poses a danger of great bodily harm, if not death for the victim.

6. “I couldn’t actually use a gun, I just have one to scare burglars away.”

Wrong and deadly. Countless studies of criminal behavior have brought us a chilling fact. Criminals do not fear the gun. They only fear the resolute man or woman holding it on them. If they d not believe that you are “hard” enough to fire on them, they will make the effort to take the gun away from you and use it on you. Lots of different ways to say this. If you do not have what it takes to use a gun to save your life, do not pull one on an attacker. You will not have much advance warning if you have been chosen as a victim. You cannot be sure that if you submit that your attacker will spare your life. Yes, it does happen in your town, in your neighborhood and it can happen, without warning, tonight, in your home. Yes, its unfair. But who in the world ever told you that life was going to be fair, and why were you foolish enough to believe them?

7. “The key to self defense is having the ‘right’ gun. With a large bore handgun, you will be unbeatable in a gunfight.”

Wrong and pretty stupid. This is not a quest for the magical sword Excalibur. A self defense handgun must be one that combines reliability, stopping power, and accuracy in a stressful firing situation. Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum would be no match for a cheap .22 Saturday night special in the hands of a criminal skilled in shooting it accurately. If the magnum owner could not fire it effectively and accurately to put an attacker down, he will lose the fight. Choose a gun you can shoot accurately, which operates reliability and which has sufficient stopping power to save your life if you ever have to use it. Because if you do, that is what will be at stake.

8. “Do not pull a gun unless you are going to pull the trigger.”

Wrong and dangerously stupid. In the words of Massad Ayoob, Director of the Lethal Force Institute for over twenty-eight years, “No little grasshopper, the rule is don’t pull the gun unless you’re prepared to pull the trigger.” The difference is monumental. The greatest power of the gun is deterrence. Threat management, the ability to dissuade an attacker from carrying through with his threat. But if you have achieved that goal, the decision to shoot changes your status from responsible gun owner to criminal. Police officers must pull their guns in the line of duty routinely, but rarely are required to move to the point of using deadly force. You must be ready to stop the threat while maintaining control over the decision to use deadly force to do so.

**Adapted from the work of, and with grateful acknowledgment to, Massad F. Ayoob, skilled instructor, true friend and Director of the Massad Ayoob Group, Concord, New Hampshire.

Jeopardy, the Third Leg of the AOJ Triad

Experienced self-defense trainers refer to adversaries or attackers who have the ability and opportunity to cause harm, and reasonable people who, observing the aggressive conduct, believe they are in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury. These three factors (called the AOJ triad) simply restate the common law of self-defense.

“Ability” means the aggressor had the means by which to kill or seriously injure the client. This can include “mechanical ability” where the attacker had a weapon of some sort, or, in the case of the unarmed attacker, there existed a disparity of force which might include factors such as relative age, strength, gender, training, level of aggressiveness, number of aggressors, and, possibly an attacker known to be skilled in deadly hand to hand arts.

**A man armed with a razor sharp knife has the means to kill or seriously injure another human being.

“Opportunity” means the attacker was in a position to use his ability. This is a function of distance, and obstacles between the aggressor and defender, as well as the existence of cover, and escape routes. An aggressor armed with a firearm has a greater opportunity to harm a defender at range than one armed with a baseball bat.

**A man with a razor sharp knife standing 21 feet away from another person has the ability and the opportunity to inflict death or serious bodily harm before the defender can act to stop him.

**A man with the same knife at the other end of the block, cannot present the type of imminent threat that justifies the use of deadly force. He is too distant, therefore he lacks opportunity.

“Jeopardy” means that the individual’s behavior was such that it would led the defender, and would also lead a reasonable observer, to conclude the defender is in imminent danger. This can include verbal threats, threatening gestures, and sudden movement towards the defender.

**If the client was injured or was unable to flee due to ill health or disability, he would be placed in jeopardy at a time earlier than a healthy or uninjured person.

Here is some interesting language from the Minnesota Appellate courts on the issue of jeopardy.

"The appellant was upset because his girlfriend took a knife and damaged one of his Playstation games - - because he punched her in the head for waking him up from a drunken snooze -- which she did because he was defecating on her couch in his sleep. So later, after discovering the damage to his beloved Playstation game, he was in the shower singing about how he was going to get out, dry off and then "kick the shit out of her, and throw her down the stairs. She dialed 911. He was later charged with and convicted of making a felony terroristic threat. On appeal, he argued that his threat, was at best to commit a misdemeanor assault, not a sufficient predicate crime to justify a conviction on the felony terroristic threat charge."

"The evidence was sufficient that a jury could find appellant guilty of making a threat to commit second-degree assault. Minnesota law provides that "[w]hoever assaults another with a dangerous weapon" is guilty of second-degree assault. Minn. Stat. § 609.222, subd. 1 (2006). A "dangerous weapon" is defined as an "instrumentality that, in the manner it is used or intended to be used is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm." Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 6 (2006). And "[g]reat bodily harm" means bodily injury which creates a high probability of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily harm. Id., subd. 8. Depending on the circumstances of the assault, hands and feet may be dangerous weapons, even if the victim does not suffer great bodily harm. State v. Davis, 540 N.W.2d 88, 90-91 (Minn. App. 1995) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Jan. 31, 1996)."

"The evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that appellant threatened to use his feet and hands as a dangerous weapon. A threat to "kick the sh--" out of a person, throw someone down the stairs, and/or hit someone could be viewed as a threat to commit a crime of violence calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm. It is reasonable to conclude that a person could be at risk of a high probability of death, suffer serious permanent disfigurement, suffer a loss or impairment of a bodily function or other serious bodily harm from getting kicked or hit hard, pushed down stairs, or a combination of all three. Thus, we conclude there is sufficient evidence to find appellant‟s statements constitute threats to commit a second-degree assault."

State v. Jorgenson, 758 N.W.2d 316 (Minn.App. 2008)

This concept is not terribly new in the law.  In 1921, Justice Homes, delivering the opinion of the court in Brown v. United States, 256 U.S. 335, 343, 41 S.Ct. 501, 65 L.E.2d 961 (1921) stated:

Many respectable writers agree that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant, he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not exceed the bounds of lawful self-defense. Justice Holmes went on to say, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011


“You can't miss fast enough to win the fight. It doesn't matter how big a gun you have if you can't hit the target.” Jeff Cooper.

No matter which authoritative source you reference, each can, and will, provide a complicated formula for some very basic ideas. These are as follows. If you are unfortunate enough to become involved in a situation in which you must use deadly force to save your life, you will have to draw a weapon, powerful enough to stop the threat confronting you. You will have to draw that weapon swiftly, fire that weapon quickly and accurately for whatever number of shots are necessary to put your attacker(s) down and out of the fight.

"The fight will not be the way you want it to be. The fight will be the way it is. YOU must be flexible enough to adapt." -- Unknown

And, to make the situation even more challenging, statistics on such incidents compiled over years by the FBI suggest that the average duration of these incidents is about seven seconds. And no matter how you cut it, that’s not a lot of time. In fact, research has shown that its about how long it takes the average adult male to run twenty-one feet.

Over the years, instructors and trainers have sought to distill various tactics, techniques and practices that, when taken together and applied correctly, give the defensive shooter the best chance of performing those tasks listed above correctly and survive the encounter.

For example, the NRA, in outlining its pronouncements on “Basic Defensive Shooting Skills”, includes the skills of aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control and follow through.

In contrast, the U.S. Army, in its basic manual, “Combat Training with Pistols, M9 and M11", emphasizes the use of hand-and-eye coordination, flash sight picture, quick-fire point shooting, and quick-fire sighting.

Mas Ayoob (Massad Ayoob Group) a well-known and respected combat handgun expert and trainer, breaks these same principles down in this fashion. “Effective combat marksmanship requires: 1) Strong stance. 2) High hand grasp. 3) Hard grip. 4) Front sight. 5) Smooth rearward roll of the trigger.”

Each of these knowledgeable sources is expressing some common concepts in sightly different ways. Basic gun handling skills, learned, mastered, and practiced over, and over become instinctive. In the electric atmosphere of a self-defense encounter, you do not have time to go through a step by step, methodical, by the book response. It has to become automatic, it has to be accurate, and it has to happen fast.

All these experts, and dozens more besides, emphasize certain aspects of the manipulation of the handgun as critical to the successful response to an armed self-defense encounter. At the same time, those who truly know what they are talking about recognize that the combat scenario is not static, but fluid. It requires adaption. Of the recognized primary handgun shooting elements, (stance, grip, sighting, smooth trigger pull, follow through) you may not have the time, or physical ability to adopt all of them in a given situation.

However, using them to build a base of experience creates a number of advantages including muscle memory which aids in developing and honing an instinctive response, confidence in your ability to operate your firearm accurately and quickly under stress, and hand-eye coordination, so critical in the “flash sighting” or “point and shoot” situations.

So, these basics are, (1) your stance, the physical positioning of your body, which allows you to utilize a natural point of aim, to absorb recoil, and the ability to move while shooting. (2) the way you grip your handgun, vital to accuracy, smooth trigger pull and follow through. (3) sighting, not the sort used in precision target shooting, but the sighting that time and speed will allow in a given self-defense situation. (4) trigger pull. it has to be powerful enough to fire the weapon. It has to be smooth enough so that you do not yank your handgun off target. It has to be fast enough to trigger the shots necessary to stop an attacker with multiple hits and put him/her out of the fight.

What about breath control? Breathing is an autonomic bodily function. You breath while asleep, despite the fact that you are not aware of doing it. You will not be conscious of breathing during a fight for your life. Breath control is useful for Olympic marksmen, engaged in precision shooting. In a self-defense combat situation, you will not have time to worry about it, or think about it.

So, of these important factors, which are most critical? Those things that might operate to take the muzzle of your handgun off a target you desperately need to stop.

Sighting and trigger pull. The rest make you a better shot. But, no matter how you stand, kneel or roll on the ground, no matter how you hold your handgun, if you put repeated solid hits in the center mass of an attacker, you will put him,/her down, if shooting that individual is capable of putting them down at all.


If you can, using a strong stance provides the most solid, effective base for your fire on the target. There are numerous variations, numerous names, Isoceles, Weaver, Modified Weaver, Stressfire. Each of these make use of common physiological principles. Strength, balance, weapon support. Keeping the feet spread apart, both from a forward-backward perspective, and laterally. Knees slightly bent instead of locked, allowing the legs to be used as shock absorbers and to facilitate rapid movement. Examine an online video demonstrating the Israeli Defense Forces Instructional on “Instinctive Shooting” .

But what good is a well-practiced Modified Weaver stance, if you have to go flat on the your belly to makes use of available cover?  What good is freezing in the Israeli Instinctive shooting stance if you are shooting while backing away from an onrushing attacker trying to ram a knife through your heart, or cut your throat?

Standing, moving, kneeling prone, barricade. Practice them all. You won’t pick the fight. The fight will pick you. And, if you cannot adapt your positioning to the circumstances, you are at grave risk for serious injury or death. Relying upon one shooting stance when the environment requires another you have not practiced shooting from, on a regular basis is a very bad idea.

Grip -

A proper grip on the handgun should provide the shooter with a natural point of aim or consistent indexing of the handgun, and effective management of both vertical recoil (muzzle flip) and horizontal recoil upon discharge.

The one-handed grip used for off-hand precision target shooting is fine for competition target shooting. It is not of much use when confronting an armed assailant intent upon taking your life.

The two-handed grip, properly applied, fulfills both of these important functions. Sometimes referred to as the Leatham-Enos grip, this technique was developed in the early 1980s by competitive shooters Rob Leatham and Brian Enos. In this grip, the pistol is completely enveloped by the hands. The strong-side (or “grip”) hand rides high and tight into the backstrap, and the inside of the support-side thumb fills the gap on the frame of the pistol. The support-side wrist and thumb are pointed straight alongside the bore toward the target. Some shooters lock the wrist forward and lock the support-side elbow while bending the strong-side elbow (reverse Weaver), as this provides a consistent physical index.

Some common mistakes, usually as a result of mimicking what viewers see in the movies, include some grip styles that cannot provide the support required for the combat shooter. These include the wrist support grip, which cannot provide the support necessary to limit vertical recoil and get the sights back on target quickly for follow up shots.

The teacup grip is often seen being used in the movies, with the grip hand sitting in the palm of the "other" hand.  It provides no support at all, allowing the wrist to flex, and from this position, controlling vertical recoil is virtually impossible.

The third common mistake is referred to as the finger forward grip where the index finger of the wrap hand is wrapped around the front of that niftyily contoured trigger guard.  Looks okay, and the way that the triggerguards are designed on numerous modern handguns, it appears to be appropriate. However, it prevents the shooter from getting a firm, strong grip on the handgun. The weakened grip makes the handgun harder to control during recoil.


Combat sighting is in some respects, a simple process. Marty Hayes, owner of the Firearms Academy of Seattle says it this way. "Your sights must aligned with the target at the moment the hammer falls."

There a two well-accepted methods for ensuring this alignment in a stress-filled situation. Flashsighting, and point sighting or point shooting.

Flashsighting - Using this technique, the shooter raises the handgun to the standard shooting position; focusing exclusively on the front sight, and when the front sight is somewhere in between the rear sights, on the rough center of the target, the shooter fires. It doesn't matter where on the target the front sight is positioned; at three to seven yards even the worst flash sighting picture accomplishes hits within an area the size of a piece of typing paper.

Point shooting - also called threat focused shooting, is a method of shooting a firearm that relies on a shooter's instinctive reactions to quickly engage close targets.

The shooter employs a two-handed grip, extending the firearm straight forward, but below eye level with the eye focused directly on center mass. The technique is intended for use in life-threatening situations where the use of sight shooting cannot be employed due to lack of time to use the gun's sights, low-light conditions, or because of the body's natural reaction to close quarters threats which prevent meeting the marksmanship requirements of sight shooting.

Point shooting attempts to harness the innate ability to point at the target in such a way that the shooter can use that ability to hit targets with a firearm. This may be done in a variety of ways which differ depending upon the method used. The one thing that point shooting methods have in common is that they do not rely on the sights, and they strive to increase the shooter's ability to hit targets at short range under the less than ideal conditions expected in close quarters life threatening situations.

Trigger Pull - Pulling the trigger should be the only motion involved in firing the weapon. It must be smooth and precise. Pulling the trigger should not effect (i.e. move in any way) any part of the gun other than the trigger. Sloppy or inconsistent trigger pull will cause more inaccuracy than any other aspect of shooting. When pulling the trigger, you should use the pad of the finger and pull the trigger straight back. Pulling at an angle, even slightly, can change the point of aim prior to firing. Dry firing (i.e. pulling the trigger without a live round in the chamber) is beyond a doubt the best exercise for increasing shooter accuracy.

This should be practiced repeatedly, until the shooter can squeeze the trigger without moving the gun at all. The firing pins on many weapons can be damaged by dry firing, so the shooter should shop at gun stores for plastic dummy rounds that will protect the firing pin while dry firing the weapon.

The key here is familiarization to master the basics and then practice, practice, practice. Deadly combat marksman do not stay that way long, in the absence of regular practice.

Situational Awareness the Best Line of Defense

                       SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

A very significant portion of the tools that an individual brings to the task of self-defense is the ability to avoid dangerous situations. No matter how tough your are, or skilled you are, or even how fast you are, you are not going to win every fight you get into. And the ones you lose, can get you killed. But you can “win” every fight you don't get into, simply by virtue of having avoided the confrontation.

In many situations, that requires that you see the potential threat coming before it gets to you. You recognize the potential for danger, and you take steps to remove yourself from the situation before it blows up around you and you can no longer escape.

What we are talking about is awareness. Recognition of what is happening around you, who the individuals are that are part of your environment at any given time, and what they are doing. This is referred to by many experts as “situational awareness.”

"Situational awareness is the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. Being observant of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of an attitude or mind set than it is a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not just a process that can be practiced by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security counter surveillance teams — it can be adopted and employed by anyone."

Burton, Stewart, Threats, Situational Awareness and Perspective, STRATFOR GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE, August, 2007 (emphasis added). Awareness, according to many experts, makes up 90% of your ability to provide for your own defense, with only the remaining 10% involved in your physical response to danger.

People often speak of the issue in terms of “levels of awareness” and, as is often the case, the effort to differentiate one’s ideas on a topic from those of others can lead to confusing layers of complication being unnecessarily added to an otherwise simple, straightforward idea. Want some proof? Google the search phrase “levels of awareness”. You will find countless articles stating that there are three, no four, no five, . . . up to as many as seven levels of human awareness. And you are going to remember all of this from this point on, no matter how stressful the situation is that you are confronting? I do not believe that this is practical, let alone possible. If you look at the most commonly taught descriptions of levels of awareness taught to self-defense students, you will find similarities.

Colonel John “Jeff” Cooper, the founder of what is now known as the Gunsite Academy, is credited with coming up with a color-code, evidencing various levels of awareness.

Code White -
You feel secure, whether or not you are actually safe.
Awareness is switched off.
You are unaware of your environment, and the people in that environment and what they are doing
All attackers look for victims in this state.

Code Yellow -
You are cautious. You should spend most of the time in this state.
Awareness is switched on.
State of threat awareness and relaxed alertness.
You have a 360-degree peripheral awareness of such environmental danger spots as secluded doorways, entries, and alleys.

Code Orange -
You recognize that you are in danger. You are aware of a potential threat.
Your mind is focused on evaluating that threat.
Specific alert. A possible target has been identified. A particular situation that has drawn your attention and could present a major problem. Someone may be giving oral indicators such as direct threats or using suspicious language. Focus on the potential attacker.

Code Red -
You are engaged in conflict.
Fight or flight. Flee, defend, or attack. You have evaluated the situation, and if there is a threat, you prepare to fight or run.
Never stand or fight if there is a possibility of fleeing.

This Color Code system, is used by most military and police organizations, to differentiate different levels of awareness.

However, Cooper himself said that it was not intended to reflect levels of awareness, but, instead, the various mindsets that an individual might adopt in reacting to a combat situation. Cooper’s words on the subject are often forgotten by those who wish to use it to represent levels of awareness. In any event, it works well for this purpose. Cooper used four different colors. From white to red. Clint Smith, the Director at Thunder Ranch, and a graduate of Gunsite, argues for the inclusion of a fifth level, black. At this level, you are engaged in combat and its not a fight to win situation, it’s a fight to live situation.

The NRA uses no colors, instead reflecting the same concepts in terms of mental perception: unaware, aware, alert and alarm. When demonstrating these levels in print, the various levels are, however, attributed colors that correspond with Col. Cooper’s original color codes.

UNAWARE - a person is completely oblivious to his surroundings and is not paying attention to others around him. He is the person who is watching the television screen while pumping his gas at a gas station, the woman power-walking along an isolated forest path with an Ipod earpiece crammed in her ear, or the person talking via cell phone to a friend while sitting in a parked car.

AWARE - a person is actively aware of their environment. They observe everyone in the immediate environment closely enough to be able to describe them if the need ever arose. They are aware of anyone who seeks to violate their personal spacial boundaries. The aware person knows that distance is a friend and is willing to preserve that space even at the sake of hurting someone's feelings. An aware person can not be followed without knowing about it, unlike many victims today who are trailed home from the local drug store to be robbed in front of their homes.

ALERT - the aware person moves to alert when they sense that something is wrong in their current environment. Often, to an aware person there is a feeling or sensation that another person is "up to no good." When this level of awareness is reached, a tentative plan of action is to be put into play such that if a violation of an established threshold is violated, the person in alert status definitely knows that further action is warranted to preserve their safety.

ALARM - in this state, the individual’s threshold for action has been triggered. This might involve flight to avoid danger, or it may necessitate a fight, if flight is not possible for whatever reason. But because the individual has gone from a state of awareness, through alert, where options for action have been evaluated, the decision to act in a specific manner can be made rapidly and without further deliberation.

For example, a woman is walking down a residential sidewalk when, ahead of her, four men get out of a car and start walking toward her on the same sidewalk. She is aware because she sees a potential threat to her safety. Instead of being blissfully ignorant, listening to music or an inspirational speech on her Ipod, bells go off in her mind as she realizes that "something might be up." Rather than "being nice" by continuing to walk towards the men for risk of hurting the feelings of individuals she does not even know, she elects to cross the street, creating distance and also a tripwire for additional evaluation. If the men also cross to her new pathway, her concerns have been confirmed.

Regardless which particular ranking system you examine, all of them, to the extent that they are attempting to address the issue of personal awareness, are expressing a single, simple concept. In order to have the best chance of avoiding danger, you have to be aware of the danger.

Going about your daily activities, so absorbed in those activities, or your own personal thoughts, that you fail to be aware of your environment, and the individuals who are a part of that environment is a recipe for disaster. Not because you are a “bad” person, not because you are in a “bad area”, but simply because bad things happen to good people, and there is absolutely no way to predict whether something bad will be visited upon you, no matter where you are, or when you are there.

July 18, 1984, San Ysidro, James Huberty, an unemployed security guard, armed himself with three guns and left his home, telling his wife he was going to “hunt humans”. Ms. Huberty did not call the police and later had no explanation for her inaction. Huberty walked into a McDonald’s restaurant a few blocks from his home, with a gym bag filled with firearms and ammunition. The customers inside the McDonalds, all caught up in their own activities of order and eating food, talking with friends and family members did not notice him setting down his bag and withdrawing an Uzi submachine gun. Their first inkling of danger was when he ordered everybody to the floor. When an employee tried to call 911, Huberty opened fire on the customers laying on the floor. He killed 20 people and wounded 16 others before a police sharpshooter shot him dead.

On January 17, 1989, a drifter named Patrick Purdy attacked a crowded Stockton, California school playground with a semi-automatic rifle and two pistols. After killing five children and wounding many more, Purdy killed himself.

On October 16, 1991, George Hennard drove his pickup truck through a plate glass window at the Killeen, Texas, Luby's Cafeteria. He jumped out and screamed: “This is what Bell County has done to me!” Hennard then opened fire with two different handguns, shooting to death 23 people, and finally killing himself with a shot to his head. Suzanna Hupp, a reputed expert pistol shot, with a carry permit, was in the restaurant with her parents. She had left her handgun in her vehicle before entering the restaurant. Her unarmed father rushed the gunman and was killed, and her mother, who rushed to the aid of her husband, was also killed, shot in the head at point blank range. You can Google her name and hear her describe the scene during testimony before Congress.

And, as we all know, on January 8, 2011, a crazed gunman opened fire at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona, shooting 19 people and killing 6 of them including a nine year old girl, a Congresswoman, and a Federal Judge.

Is it enough to say, “Well, you just have to avoid places where these things happen”? But as you can see that would, at the very least involve avoiding fast food restaurants, cafes, schools, and grocery stores. Not very practical, but I guess you could just stay at home. However, sadly, the evidence establishes that this will not work all that well either. On May 11, 2008, two men broke into a Burnsville, Minnesota home, stabbing the homeowner 17 times in the back, twice in the head and once in the cheek-- and setting seven fires in his home before fleeing in his car. He was hospitalized for a day and a half and forced to live in an apartment for several months until his home, which was heavily damaged by smoke, was habitable again.

On June 28, 2008 an intruder walked into a home in Elk River, Minnesota and stabbed the sleeping homeowner in the neck. The homeowner survived the attack, and it was later determined that the 21-year-old attacker actually lived just down the road from the victim, who did not know him. The attacker was later also convicted in a separate incident where on June 13, 2008, he broke into a house through a locked patio door, and sexually assaulted a woman at knife point for an hour while the woman's child was sleeping in a nearby room. Police believe the later stabbing incident was motivated by a desire to rape the victims teen-aged daughter after killing anyone who might prevent that attack.

There are too many other similar incidents to count, but several things are clear. One of these is that, no matter where you are, “things like that do happen here”, and there is simply no place you can go where you can be assured that a violent confrontation will not occur. A second observation is that, despite the arguments from gun-control advocates that eliminating guns will eliminate violent crime, those who, for whatever reason, elect to prey upon our citizens will find the means necessary to do so.

So, this discussion is not necessarily about arming yourself with a gun. Its about arming yourself with the first and most effective line of defense, your brain. And having that brain actively engaged, as you travel about your daily activities, aware of your surroundings, aware of those around you, aware of their actions and aware of potential escape routes in the event that your senses alert you to the potential for deadly violence.

Whether you are out at 11:00 p.m. at the local convenience store, picking up some ice cream for a late night snack while watching a movie at home, or leaving the grocery store at the end of a work day with supper in the shopping bag, or taking an evening stroll through the neighborhood on a warm Summer night, being aware of your surroundings and the movement of others around you can be critical to your continued health, welfare and safety.

Being purposefully ignorant of risk, and oblivious to your environment does not make you a better person, or a mentally healthier person. It simply means that you are unwilling for whatever reason, to take personal responsibility for your own safety. For those who have actually said to me, “I refuse to live in that sort of world, that’s a job for the police!”, I can only say two things. First, if you insist upon living in such a fantasy, it is possible that at some point, you will no longer be able to live in any sort of world at all. Second, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Being “aware”, as opposed to “unaware”, or at “condition yellow”, as opposed to “condition white” does not take a tremendous amount of energy. Nor does it make you “paranoid”. It makes you watchful, observant, thinking about what you are doing and what people around you, or about to come into your presence, are doing. Very much like the way you are supposed to be acting when driving a motor vehicle (then its called “defensive driving” and even anti-gun advocates think that’s okay), operating machinery, hunting with your buddies or walking to your seat at the baseball stadium with a cold beer in your hand. Okay then, to make everybody happy, we could call it “defensive living”.

It does not mean walking down the street, your eyes on your shoe tips with a cell phone plastered against you head as so many of our citizens seem to do these days. It does not mean walking out of a convenience store into a dimly lit parking lot, with your arms loaded with packages, fumbling for your keys, looking at the rust spot on your car door and thinking about the argument you just had with your spouse, or your upcoming work project. It does not mean being so caught up in the immediate tasks such as ordering a Big Mac at McDonalds that you don’t take time to notice the man walking through the door of the McDonalds with an obviously heavy gym bag in his hand, or, as in the case of James Huberty, a fully loaded Uzi submachine gun.

What you choose to do if and when confronted with something that does not add up right in your mind, something that gives you a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach, a feeling that our ancestors learned early on to respect, well, that’s your decision to make. Each of us, back somewhere in our family tree, had ancestors who, when observing their world with a watchful eye, suddenly got that tingling at the back of their neck, or a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach, and without a second thought took flight, or armed themselves in some fashion to fight for their lives. They lived and were allowed by the natural selection process to perpetuate the species simply because they did not ever stop to say to themselves, “Oh, things like that don’t happen here!” Because they did not delude themselves into believing that they lived in the sort of world where everybody gets along and resolves issues with compassionate dialogue. They accepted the reality of their existence and stayed awake to who and what was happening around them. They recognize potential danger and made instant decisions they had given thought to ahead of time. Do I stay and fight? Do I run away? What is available for me to use to defend myself? If I run, where do I go, and how do I get there?

In reality, that is all the concept of situational awareness involves. Being observant, scanning and evaluating our surroundings, accepting without question that danger can come suddenly and with no warning whatsoever, and recognizing the potential for danger as it approaches, while developing a plan to either defend against the danger, or to just get away from the danger as quickly as possible, without wasting time asking oneself, “Is this really happening?”. Because by the time you are busy asking yourself that question, the answer is already “Yes.”